More and more players are standing farther and farther back in the court these days. Daniil Medvedev has brought this to a new level, showcasing his amazing defensive skills and returning serves from almost the front row of the stands. The increased speed and spin on the ball has played a big part in this change.
However, the inability of many players to hit a good, low, slice backhand (or forehand) has also opened up this strategy. Granted, you have to be able to hit the deep penetrating shots to set up the short ball, but since most players are dead set on hitting the ball through the opponent, the short ball is rarely used on purpose in a match. The ability to hit the ball in front of your opponent has become a rare skill in the modern game.
Roger Federer has always been a master at hitting the short slice backhand and pulling his opponent in or following his own short ball to the net. His success with this tactic is pretty obvious. It helps that he has one of the best slice backhands of all time, but his ability to do this well is also a result of his understanding that the court will seem much bigger for the opponent if he uses the up and back direction, as well as the side to side to win the point.
Learn to hit the ball in front of your opponent and you will take away some of their ability to play defense, as well as making them move in a direction they are not comfortable playing from.
Steve Annacone, USPTA Elite Pro, is the Director of Annacone Tennis, www.annaconetennis.com and MyHamptonsPro, www.myhamptonspro.com throughout the Hamptons, NY. In addition, Steve and Miguel Coelho have introduced the JET (Junior Elite Tennis) program at the Tucson Jewish Community Center (Tucson, AZ) for high level players ages 8-18. Please contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org